President Obama put forth his support for net neutrality today, complete with an in-depth proposal for the Federal Communications Commission, in response to the record breaking 4 million public comments the FCC has received on the subject.
The president writes, "We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict best access or pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas."
Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, and the Internet should remain "free and open" to the public. If the FCC were to implement rules that would do away with net neutrality, Internet service providers, or ISPs, would be in the position to make Internet "fast lanes" and charge for those multiple levels of service.
In his statement, Obama outlined four guiding rules in his proposal. Namely, ISPs should not be able to block consumer access to legal content, nor "throttle" content by speeding up or slowing down access. He also called for "increased transparency" and a ban on "paid prioritization," arguing that this sort of "gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet's growth."
The president urged the FCC to reclassify broadband services for consumers under Title II of the 18-year-old Telecommunications Act, which would put them in the same regulatory category as public utilities or "common carriers." In the video accompanying the statement, he explained, "I'm asking them to recognize that for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication, and everyday life."
Since that legislation was enacted in '96, there has been a distinction between common carriers (examples: landlines and public transportation) and information services (activities related to publishing and storing online content). In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC could classify broadband services as information services, which meant regulators couldn't establish protections that would prevent providers from blocking access or charging additional premiums.
Recently, it was reported that the FCC and Chairman Tom Wheeler were exploring a "hybrid" proposal that would regulate parts of the Internet differently. Consumer broadband connections would be considered "retail" information services, while connections for websites and content sites would be regulated as common carriers.
While the president is adding his voice to the citizens and tech companies who have come out against the FCC proposals, the sole decision remains with the FCC itself.